Six ways to learn and/or remember your students’ names

Rather strange name tag I found on the net. Name tags are very useful for first classes though!

One of the key challenges teachers face at the beginning of a new course is to learn and remember students’ names. I know that for me it causes quite a bit of anxiety, especially on the third or fourth day with them and the class still looks like a sea of unrecognizable faces. Over the years I’ve developed several strategies to help in this, often picked up from wiser more experienced colleagues. Thought I’d pass on the top six…

1. Make a floor plan or use name cards

Make an outline of the classroom, and on the first day go student by student, asking their names and completing your plan. Leave this on your desk and, for the first few classes at least, make sure people sit in the same spot for the beginning of the lesson. Or ask students to make a little name card and place it on the desk in front of them.

2. Play a name game.

Yes, this is the first thing that many an English teacher does with a class. It often involves tossing a ball around and calling out names. I was right into ball-tossing around ten years ago in my career and then all of a sudden I thought (perhaps unreasonably?) that it was too childish. Of course if you are teaching children then fine.

Another name game involves saying names in a chain “My name’s X.” “This is X. My name’s Y” etc. Or adding something personal about yourself “My name’s X and I thought Terminator Salvation was awful” “His name’s X and he thought Terminator Salvation was awful, my name’s Y and I loved the film the Hangover”. You get the idea. The problem with name games is that if you have a class of over twenty students the ones at the end of the chain start moaning that it’s too hard. In that case, divide them into two big groups.

3. Use names as much as possible.

More effective than a one-off game is to start using students’ names as quickly and as often as possible. This is the way I remember. There may be mistakes at first, but sooner or later it always sinks in. Use names when you call on students, when you praise them or when you ask questions. If you make a mistake with a student’s name, make sure you use the right name the next time and do it quickly.

4. Take register aloud often.

Make a regular habit of taking the register/calling attendance. To keep you, and the students, alert you can add variations to this routine. Instead of saying “present” ask them to respond by saying the name of a fruit or vegetable, or an animal. Or ask them to respond with “present and…” plus another adjective (e.g. present and ready, present and tired, present and happy, present and bored…). One variation I often do is to take register by SPELLING students’ names in English to which they have to answer.

To add more variety, ask different students to do this task.

5. Ask them when you forget.

I think many people (myself included) are nervous or ashamed if they forget someone’s name. Often this results in avoidance strategy (“oh no, can’t remember her name… ok I’ll ask Mika instead”) which means some students may end up getting ignored. Don’t be afraid to apologise and ask a student’s name – “Excuse me, I’ve forgotten your name/ I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” This kind of formula is in fact very useful language to teach students as well.

6. Be devious.

Of course, there are more devious tricks we have up our sleeve. I wrote about some of these here, and they include ways of getting students’ names. Some other of my favourites are: to ask a student on the spot to spell his/her name, ostensibly to test their spelling skills; to take the register and make a big show of pretending that you don’t know students’ names (when in fact you don’t for some of them); or to play a “correct the teacher” game where you say things and the students have to correct you (start by saying “Your name is Charles/Charlotte” to a student whose name you have forgotten and they have to correct you). Thanks Kyle Mawer for teaching me some of these tricks by the way.

If six ways just aren’t enough for you, if you’re still having problems and want more tips then go to this post by Alex Case. He’s got a bunch more!

How do YOU remember students’ names? Post a comment.

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Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (19)  
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